Architectural Theory, Design Theory, Sustainability, Sustainable Methods

Biophilic Architecture Principles and Examples

Have you ever thought about why some people like to keep a succulent on their desk? Or place flower vases around their homes?

What is Biophilic Design?

The word “Biophilic” refers to human connection with nature – something that can be easily observed in today’s highly urbanized environment. It explains why humans are more comfortable in natural outdoor settings than an enclosed built environment. 

Why is it important?

A built environment has the likelihood of creating an artificial barrier between nature and human beings in the name of shelter. This often tends to negatively impact the productivity and well-being of the users that regularly access the building.

The aim of biophilic design is to eradicate the barrier and allow humans to freely interact with nature in order to improve their lifestyle and productivity. This is of utmost importance in a post-pandemic world where the mental health of humans synchronize with the spaces which they are confined to.

The importance of Biophilic Architecture

  1. Reducing stress within residential spaces
  2. Improving productivity in office spaces
  3. Improving recovery time of patients in hospitals 
  4. Regulating body clocks of users according to the daylight access within a building

Along with enhancement of living conditions of users, biophilic architecture allows us architects to progress towards green buildings and sustainability, which is an important aspect to consider in a time where climate change is abundant.

How to implement biophilic elements in built forms?

A. Profiles of natural elements

Dating back to some of the oldest built forms, humans have always looked for a means of associating themselves with nature by semblances of what they observed in their surroundings. This is seen in Egyptian architecture – the form of columns were derived from the appearance of papyrus stalks bundled together, the capitals of these columns looked like lotus buds.

Papyrus Columns

Means of implementing this in a project are

  1. Introducing jali walls mimicking patterns found in nature – repetitive patterns like honeycomb or floral patterns in partition walls or windows. Such patterns when introduced as solids and voids create interest.
Jali work observed in Islamic architecture
  1. Facades that take inspiration from nature – Leaf like patterns on walls, curved or flowy nature of exterior walls or elevations.
  2. Materials and Color Palettes – Usage of familiar nature-derived materials like wood or mud; earthy tones like warm browns and their contrasting greens that are abundant in nature within interior spaces.
A living room inspired by the color palette of natural elements.

B. Greenery and Open Spaces

Another approach is directly connecting to nature by introducing greenery and open spaces in a built form. The Hanging Gardens of Babylon is one of the oldest and best known examples to represent biophilia. This serves as proof that the concept of biophilic design, though coined recently, goes back to times when such a term did not exist – but the idea broke through due to the innate instinct of humans to connect with nature.

Hanging gardens of Babylon showcasing vegetation in open spaces

Means of implementing this in a project are 

  1. Introducing central courtyards or atriums – organizing spaces around a central green space within the interiors of the building, creating emphasis on that space.
A building planned around a central green courtyard
  1. Substantial amount of greenery – vertical green walls on the walls adjacent to staircases, plants within interiors and exteriors of a building, greenery introduced near windows.
  2. Water bodies within buildings – small ponds or shallow pools of water can create a cooling effect within buildings.
shallow water bodies in buildings that enhance the thermal comfort in building

C. Natural Lighting and Ventilation 

In order to establish a visual connection with nature and to achieve a comfortable temperature within a built environment, openings in the form of large windows or jali walls can be utilized. Openings also allow us to regulate the ventilation and the amount of sunlight that enters a building. In early Renaissance Architecture, one of the notable buildings – Hardwick Hall by Robert Smythson, placement of repetitive large openings can be observed to achieve the daylighting and ventilation requirements.  

Multiple Windows are observed on the facade of Hardeick Hall

Means of implementing this in a project are

  1. Introducing proper sizes of windows and openings – brings the outdoors inside, daylighting improves productivity within a space.
  2. Spatial organization – spaces within a building must be organized such that they have access to daylight and ventilation throughout the year.
  3. Use of openable skylights – utilizes stack effect for hot air to exit a space, acquiring the required natural light at the same time.

Bosco Verticale – Milan, Italy

Bosco Verticale

Bosco Verticale, literally translating to “Vertical Forest,” a residential project that holds close to 800 trees and thousands of other perennials and shrubs is a prime example of biophilic architecture, closing in on the connection to nature that humans crave. The presence of vegetation boosts biodiversity – with birds and butterflies found in abundance. 

How biophilic design is implemented in the building?

  1. Introducing vegetation on the balconies to filter the sunlight that enters the interior spaces – establishing a connection with nature.
  2. Creating a microclimate by using plants and trees in open spaces – creating a natural ecosystem and creating a comfortable living environment for occupants.
  3. Brown stone facades with an appearance of a tree bark give an impression of living in a large tree – humans tend to connect with the forms of nature that they observe around them.
  4. Large openings and curtain walls to allow plenty of natural light and ventilation into the residence.
  5. The implementation of these features improve the health and wellness of the dwellers, while also being sustainable.

Biophilic Architecture serves as a means of connecting with nature without necessarily having to step outdoors to experience it, playing an important role in a time where people do not have the time to step out of their work spaces or residences as and when they’d like. 

This approach to design is crucial mainly because it improves user comfort and health while also considering sustainability.

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